Police to investigate McLeish expenses

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Indy Politics

Scotland's First Minister is to be investigated by police over allegations he claimed parliamentary expenses he was not entitled to.

Henry McLeish, who took over the post of First Minister a year ago after the death of Donald Dewar, admitted last week he had made "an error" in his expenses claims while still a serving Westminster MP. He agreed to repay £9,000.

A former police officer has submitted an official complaint to Fife Constabulary calling for a criminal investigation.

Mr McLeigh's "error" occurred when the former Labour MP for Fife sub-let part of his constituency office in Glenrothes to a law firm but continued to claim his full entitlement to office costs.

Despite claims from Tory MPs that as much as £4,000 a year had been misclaimed over a 10-year period, an inquiry by Elizabeth Filkin, the Westminster parliamentary standards commissioner, was abandoned after the June election when Mr McLeish stood down as an MP to concentrate on his duties within the Scottish Parliament.

However, amid growing pressure from opposition parties Mr McLeish announced last week that he had reached an agreement with the Commons fees office to repay £9,000 and that he now "considered the matter closed". But far from ending the matter his critics seized on his admission of guilt and produced fresh allegations that Mr McLeish may also have broken House of Commons rules by allowing his publicly funded office to be used for party political purposes.

The row, which has diverted attention away from Mr McLeish's attempts to celebrate his first year in office, prompted the police complaint from Alistair Watson, a former detective sergeant in the Scottish crime squad. Mr Watson said that as a police officer he had had to charge a man with benefit fraud because he had been claiming housing benefit while letting a room. "I can see no difference here," said Mr Watson, who claimed that politicians should be subject to the same process as anyone else if they were alleged to have committed a criminal act.

Fife police said yesterday: "We can confirm that an approach has been made to us regarding this matter and this will receive an appropriate response from Fife Constabulary as would be the case in any approach of this nature."

Mr McLeish was continuing to play down the affair. "As far as I am concerned the matter is now closed," he told Scottish Television's Seven Days programme. "I leave it with the Fife Constabulary and I have confidence in them. I've made a mistake and I've said that I regret that."

Describing his error, he said: "I think I had been claiming from the fees office of the House of Commons and I had also been leasing part of my office. All of that money went into my business account. Everything was spent on my parliamentary constituency office so I think the fees office and the parliamentary commissioner were looking at whether anything untoward had been done.

"The fees office acknowledged there was a technical issue here and that is why we agreed that I would pay back the sum of £9,000. I have never made any personal gain from this at all. Obviously some people cannot accept that."

Mr McLeish also dismissed allegations he broke Commons rules by allowing his office to be used as an official headquarters by the Labour Party in 1994 and 1995. "It is not true," he said.

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